Stop and smell the pixels

My new Alliance toon, Lantanna (yes, theme), is introducing me to new worlds in WoW, so to speak. Not only do I get entirely new quest areas and lines at low levels (new content!), it seems that many other new quests are sprinkled in with the old. Also, new instances (Gnomeregan!) and of course, new places that are now safe, as opposed to “enemy territory.” Ahhhh, Stormwind.


So Stormwind. Imagine all the swords & horses fantasy cities you’ve ever read about combined together into one seamless whole. Cobblestone streets, thatched roofs, majestic cathedral square and sweeping castle complete with vaulted ceilings.  Odd shops tucked into corners, shady characters lurking behind pillars. A trio of girls practising magic in a grassy square, medieval knights standing guard.

If you’ve ever wished yourself into a classic fantasy book, this place is probably what you envisioned.


What makes Stormwind so amazing to me is not that it is more detailed or better thought out than Horde cities. Rather, it is a sense of familiarity in the place. Horde cities felt novel, a bit. Places I learned about in the game. Stormwind feels referential; that is, I have read so many books about similar places that I feel I am suddenly in those books, moving around a space that was before only in my imagination. It’s amazing.

Folks who have long played Alliance are used to this, of course. They probably have stopped seeing the cool purple thatched roofs of the Mage’s Quarter and pay no more attention to elegance of the cathedral. They see instead mostly the functional: here’s the bank, there the weapons trainer, the auction house is there, get to the (omg so cool) tram to Ironforge.

But exploring these new-to-me cities has reminded me of the simply incredible visuals of this game. They are awe-inspiring.

We have to stop “seeing” the amazing animation and backdrop in order to get through the game, of course. Just as in our offline lives, we develop paths through these spaces that include what we need, and we stop noticing quite so much the roses and sunsets along the way. We develop a set of meanings to spaces that align with our lives, but we can’t possibly spare the immense attention it would take to notice every pixel (or blossom) along our way.

This game is on of the things that sometimes makes me pause and think, I’m living in the future. Gibson’s cyberworld is here, the gadgets we can use every day are peppered throughout books I’ve read from years ago, the political and moral questions we face were once imaginings of science fiction writers of all sorts: cloning, survellience, online lives, plugged in teenagers… you name it.

Although, I admit I’m still waiting on the transporter.


4 responses to “Stop and smell the pixels

  1. I have to agree, sneaking into stormwind and ironforge (as horde) to do dungeon/pvp achievements was like stepping into a different game. To me it felt like the purpose of the game was different for “them.” It’s so pretty and magical, nothing like the grit and grime, skeletons, and green lava goo of the horde side.

    I try to imagine what it would have been like to start as an alliance player, if I would view the game differently. Because starting off horde, you are almost immediately taught a defensive stance (the alliance don’t really want you dark evil scourge/trolls, etc. around!). So, starting off as alliance would I be ingrained with an offensive stance (get those dark evil scourge/trolls, etc.!)? I never really felt the “go get those nobel do-gooder allies!” as a baby horde. What I felt was more like “run as fast as you can away from those nobel do-gooder allies because they are out to get you!” So what I mean here is that as horde I felt from the beginning like I had something to prove/fight against, and I felt that alliance had an assumed valor and something to fight FOR. Are these perceptions true of folks who started off as alliance? Or are alliance taught to fear us too because maybe we are tougher/stronger/fighting for something more meaningful than them? (starting off as horde, i can’t play my alliance toon without accepting the perceptions I had when I started the game, and when I’m told that horde are scary, well, I just laugh a little on the inside). I am interested to think about how much of this has to do with how the factions are presented visually in-game.

    Alliance is pretty and strong (cities built of stone, cobblestone, etc.) and its not that the horde locations aren’t strong (although usually less conventionally “pretty”), because they are built of stone, etc. too. But it’s a different KIND. It almost seems like alliance locations are more visually advanced. They’ve been around for a long time and had time to work out the incredible details. Horde locations, on the other hand, seem as though they were built in defense of something, more hastily, and not given much attention beyond their initial function (think of the broken statues, weedy lawns, dirt roads). I’m no lore-junky, but I assume this all makes sense with the horde and alliance histories.

    Alliance priorities seem different than horde priorities. Alliance has spent a lot of time making themselves look good. Horde seems to not care about looks, as long as it functions. This doesn’t really have to do with actual players making themselves look good/not caring about how they look, but is a statement as to how the game presents the factions.

    I also think its interesting your comment:

    “We develop a set of meanings to spaces that align with our lives, but we can’t possibly spare the immense attention it would take to notice every pixel (or blossom) along our way.”

    This makes me think about huxly and “the more we know the more we see.” Wow is visually amazing, and when we’re new to the game we sit there, visually amazed and probably overwhelmed. Then, as we grown and learn more about the game, we start to see things we haven’t noticed before (oh, that skeleton has on PANTS, that is so silly). But then, when our priorities change we no longer have the time to stop and smell the pixels. We just need to get to that instance/auction house/mailbox,etc. So I think in wow our ability to see changes (in the sense that our ability to see is based on being able to identify things, understand them, how they fit into our lives, etc.). Because we can identify the purple thatched roof, we can understand it, it fits into our lives but it’s not important to our lives anymore. So, it’s not as simple as “the more you know, the more you see” its “the more you know, the more you see, if you really WANT to.” So we have to make the choice to expend the attention to the minutiae. And it’s too bad that we don’t really have the capacity to multitask here…notice the beautiful buildings along the way to the mailbox WHILE being equally excited about getting that enchant from the mailbox WHILE being thoughtful about how we are going to perform in the raid we are about to go to use that enchant in. Wow is so complex (visually, skills wise, social), but we only have so much attention (100%), so the more thinly that attention gets spread, the less we’re really paying attention at all. But it would be nice to get to do everything at once…but you can’t really stop the raid to be like “hey guys, I just really want to check out the incredible detail of this statue.” :p

  2. @ i. thanks so much for your amazing comment! Of course, I’m right there with you. I wonder, too, if letting go of being amazed by the visuals of WoW reduces the enjoyment of the game?

    When I first started playing, I was constantly blown away by each new region – terrified of Desolace with all those too-high level mobs, freaked out by its… desolation. Playing Alliance has brought a bit of that back, but not as much, of course.

    Yes, we have to move past that to be able to kill the mobs and complete the quests, as you point out. It would be too much otherwise.

    But sometimes getting inured to that beauty makes things less interesting.

    On a related note, do we ever *really* stop being affected by those visuals? I’ve argued in the past that the visuals in online spaces create a specific context that continues to infleunce us, especially the norms and patterns in our behaviour. These are both conscious and non-conscious processes.

    Does that happen in WoW? Do those visuals make their way into our overall perceptions and understandings of Dalaran or Stormwind or Desolace? I confess I’m still not sure.

  3. Pingback: can you feel the devilsaur tonight « standing at the back in my sissy robe

  4. Very nice writing. I originally started on horde side with a mage. But seeing my first human girl dancing in front of me to get me out of my save starter zone and afterwards killed me with a hidden mage several level above me leads me to second thoughts.
    With a new server i switch in June 2005 to alliance side. It was so much more “lore” in there. I loved it. I also loved IronForge. It was a great expierience.
    But it was also true that I could not play with the aliance player a lot. Many of them have been kidies.
    After 2years of hard core raiding I am know back on horde side. And men I love the UC designe again. The circle architecture is great. Even thunderbuff is with the free space ahead.

    I think the darnai made me leave. I don’t want to play beside a blue alien with some pesticels.


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